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Do You Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise? The Answer Depends

Figuring out if you need a passport to go on a cruise isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think. It largely depends on the destination of your cruise, what port you’re embarking from and what port you end at, and what other forms of ID you have.

To help you figure out if you need a passport to go on a cruise, we’ve compiled some information for U.S. passport holders with examples of different destinations and if you do or do not need a passport for those cruise itineraries.

Do You Need a Passport if Flying to an International Cruise?

First of all, you do need a passport book to go on a cruise if you’re doing any international air travel to get to your cruise. This is the case even if you’re flying to Canada or Mexico from the U.S.A.

If you’re traveling by land or sea, however, you don’t have to have a typical passport (the book kind); instead, a passport card works as well.

What’s a Passport Card and Should You Get One?

A passport card is a government issued ID that works as a passport, but it’s just a single card similar to the size of a driver’s license that you can easily put in a wallet. The passport card can be used for entry into Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean as long as you’re entering by land or by sea. Passport cards do not work for flying into Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the Caribbean.

So if you’re eyeing an Alaska cruise that departs from Vancouver, British Columbia, but you only have a passport card and don’t want to get a passport book, you’ll need to drive or take to the train to Vancouver. If you must fly to Vancouver, you’ll have to get a passport book. Or…change your itinerary plans and book an Alaska cruise that leaves out of Seattle.

That’s right, for a roundtrip Seattle departure on an Alaska cruise that visits Canada, you can go with just your passport card since you’ll be arriving in by sea.

At this point, you may be wondering the pros and cons of traveling with a passport card as opposed to a passport book.

The main benefits are cost and ease of carrying it. A passport card costs much less than a passport book. Current rates have passport books costing $80 more than a passport card. Both a passport card and passport book are valid for ten years before you’ll need to renew them (though note that passports last for just five years for children 15 and under before they have to be renewed).

The other thing that makes a passport card more enticing than a passport book is the size. Unlike a bulky passport book that needs all those extra pages for stamps, a passport card can easily be slipped into a wallet, purse, money belt, or even a pocket (just make sure it’s a secure pocket with a zipper so it doesn’t fall out!).

Plus, a passport card is great to have if you’re a spontaneous traveler who doesn’t like to bring your big passport around with you. Having it with you means you’re ready to go if you’re visiting friends and family on the southeast coast of America and a last-minute cruise deal comes up to the Caribbean. You can board and visit the Caribbean ports of call on the cruise with only your passport card in hand.

What About Kids – Do They Need a Passport to Cruise on Itineraries Departing From the U.S.?

Making things even more confusing when cruising to Canada or the Caribbean and Mexico is the fact that kids don’t need a passport or passport card if arriving by land or sea. Instead, they just need a notarized copy of a birth certificate. In addition, be sure to check other requirements such as a signed and notarized letter from the missing parent if the child isn’t traveling with both parents.

When Do you Need a Passport Book to Cruise?

As mentioned earlier, you’ll always need a passport book if you are departing on a cruise from somewhere that requires an international flight or visits somewhere other than Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda So if you’re a U.S. citizen, you’ll always need a passport for any cruises to destinations in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America.

Likewise you’ll need a passport book if you are starting and ending your cruise in different U.S. ports. This means that a roundtrip Alaska cruise from Seattle only requires a passport card, but if you are sailing from Seattle to Seward and ending your cruise in Seward, you’ll need a passport booklet. Similarly, you’ll need a passport booklet if, for example, you’re doing a Panama Canal cruise that departs from San Diego and ends in a Florida port (or vice versa) even if you don’t plan on getting off the ship while in port. This is because you’ll be sailing in international waters.

A couple more examples of this are Hawaii or Pacific Coastal cruises. These itineraries typically don’t end at the same port at which they began. Hawaii cruises typically sail one-way between Honolulu and Los Angeles or San Francisco, while Pacific Coastal cruises sail one-way between Vancouver, British Columbia, or San Francisco and San Diego, California or Los Angeles, California. Even if your cruise starts and ends in U.S. cities, you’ll need a passport card or passport booklet since it’s not a roundtrip cruise.

But Do You ALWAYS Need Either a Passport Card or Passport Booklet to Cruise?

Those closed-loop cruises from the U.S. to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean can be done even if you booked a last minute cruise without a passport in your possession. Having a passport card or passport book is the most straightforward way to ensure you can get on your cruise without any hassle, but it’s not your only option for these types of cruises.

U.S. citizens can sail on U.S. cruises with ports of call in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean that start and end in the same U.S. port (called a closed loop cruise) if you have some notarized documentation even if you don’t have a passport.

In lieu of a passport you’ll need an original or notarized copy of your government-issued birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license.

You can also use your NEXUS card when traveling between U.S. and Canada if you have one. NEXUS cards are good for five years and cheaper than passport cards and passports and prove identity and thus citizenship through retina scans done during your application process and at border crossings.

Why You May Still Want a Passport on Closed-Loop Cruises

You never know what might happen on vacation. If you get sick or injured on an island in the Caribbean and need to be flown back to the U.S. or if some sort of natural disaster occurs (unlikely, but not beyond the realm of possibilities) and your ship isn’t able to return to its original port, you will find it’s much more of a hassle trying to get back home without a passport in your possession.

Also some ports of call may require a passport to enter even if you don’t need one to go on a cruise. It’s always wise to research your itinerary and what each country you have a port of call in requires of U.S. citizens in order to enter.

Passport Cruise Travel 101

Having a passport doesn’t mean your vacation is a go yet. You’ll also want to double check when your passport expires. Many countries require that your passport is valid for six months from the date of your planned departure from that country. For a cruise, that means making sure your passport is still valid for another six months following the last day of the cruise.

Another thing you’ll want to check is how many blank passport pages you have for stamps. You should have at least one blank page for each country you’re visiting. If you don’t have enough pages left for stamps, you’ll need to renew your passport as it’s not possible any longer to get blank pages added to your current passport book like you may have been familiar with doing in the past.

One nice thing when traveling through international countries on a cruise is that customs is pretty much handled for you. By providing your passport number and other applicable information before your cruise, the cruise line provides this info to the customs authorities in many international ports of call so you can simply get off the ship without having to go through customs.

However, you should always double check what the passport protocol is for the cruise ports you’re visiting.

For example, if doing a White Pass and Yukon Route railroad shore excursion while in Skagway, Alaska, during an Alaska cruise you’ll need to show your passport or other necessary documentation after crossing into Canada before you can get off the train at the White Pass Summit. You also may need to have your passport ready to be reviewed upon entry back into the U.S. during this shore excursion.

You certainly don’t want any delays that may cause you to miss a shore excursion or – even worse – not be able to get back to your cruise ship in time. Therefore it’s always good to check when you’ll need your passport with you in port. When in doubt, bring it and keep it in a secure, safe place on your person. (More on that in the section below.)

It is also your responsibility to get any visas you may need in order to enter a certain country. The cruise line won’t do this for you. Therefore, be sure to research the countries you’re visiting before you depart for your cruise and what the protocol is for visas. You may not need one, or you may be able to purchase one upon arrival. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to apply for one in advance and that should be done as soon as you book your cruise to avoid any issues should there be delays getting the visa. You’ll also be in charge of any fees relating to the visa.

Another reason to keep your passport with you when exploring international ports is in case you DO miss the ship’s departure time. It will be even harder to get a flight, car rental, or train ticket to meet your ship in the next port without your passport on you. (And remember – a shore excursion booked through Celebrity Cruises provides you with a guarantee you’ll make it back in time to the ship!)

One thing to note, though, is that for some itineraries, the cruise line may hold onto your passport during the duration of your cruise in order to expedite the clearance formalities at each port of call. In that case, it’s wise to make color photocopies of your passport before leaving so you can carry one of those sheets of papers into port with you.

How to Keep Your Passport Safe on a Cruise

Since you’ll need a passport for most cruises you take, you should also learn how to take precautions to keep it safe while traveling. The last thing you want to do on your vacation is deal with a lost passport.

The most popular way to do this is with a money belt or necklace. A money belt is generally a soft pouch with a zipper that can fit your passport, some cash, and a couple credit cards. The pouch is connected to a stretchy belt that you can comfortably put around your waist and under the waistband of your pants.

A passport necklace is similar, but is to be tucked under your shirt instead. It’s not usually as discreet as a money belt, but is often more convenient for easy access when needing to get money out.

In addition, there are vests, sweaters, scarves, pants, and even socks with special secret passport pockets.

Do not keep your passport (or any valuables) in any backpack or purse pockets that can easily be opened without you noticing, or in a back pocket. You may think you’ll feel it if someone tries to steal something out of your backpack or pocket, but when you’re in crowds, it’s not always as noticeable as you might think and pickpocketers are masters at stealing passports and wallet without you even realizing it’s gone until you next go to take it out.

Traveling with a passport cover is also wise since it helps to keep your passport in pristine condition. Some countries won’t accept a damaged passport.

When selecting a passport cover or travel wallet, you can opt to get one with RFID protection to prevent thieves from scanning the personal information on your passport, which can be done with special equipment when a thief is in close proximity to you and your passport has a radio frequency identification chip in it.

What if You Do Lose Your Passport During a Cruise?

First off, notify the nearest U.S. consulate so you can get a replacement passport issued. Also, speak with guest relations on your cruise ship so they can provide guidance on next steps for how to handle the duration of your cruise before you get your replacement passport. If you lost your passport on board the ship, you can also fill out a lost property report with the guest relations department on board.

To help eliminate any chance of losing your passport while on the ship, simply don’t ever carry your passport with you around the ship.

When you’re on your cruise ship there is no reason to carry around your passport since you use your Sea Pass card for everything. Instead, keep your passport in the safe in your stateroom or suite. The in-room safes are easy to use and will keep you passport in a secure place where you know exactly where it is ant all times.

Grab That Passport and Book Your Cruise!

Have all the right documentation in place for your preferred cruise itinerary – complete with a passport if needed? Then you’re all set to book your cruise and start a wonderful vacation.

Celebrity Cruises makes it easy to find the right itinerary for you in your ideal timeframe with its #BookItList platform. You can book your stateroom in your preferred area of the ship, find airfare using Flights by Celebrity (which comes with a Lowest Airfare Guarantee and added protection for your vacation investment by giving you access to a team of Flights by Celebrity Specialists who will assist you in the event of a flight interruption to make sure you still get to your cruise on time), and reserve shore excursions and other onboard activities all in one convenient place.

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